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Selecting Patterns & Fabric for Making Clothes

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Do you have a favorite shirt or dress? Have you ever thought about making your own clothing? In this lesson, learn some basics about how to select patterns and fabrics to make clothes.

Making Your Own Clothes

We all enjoy wearing clothing for purposes from casual to formal. You might have a favorite skirt, shirt, jacket or scarf. But have you ever tried to make clothing for yourself?

Making clothes might sound daunting, but it's not all that difficult. Learning how to make your own clothing can be fun. It's also a creative way to explore and develop your own sense of style.

To get started, let's cover a few basic steps, including picking a proper clothing pattern and choosing fabric.

Selecting Patterns

For most people, the first step in making clothes is choosing a pattern.

A pattern is a set of written directions and printed paper templates.They're your guide, and they show you what parts to cut out and assemble to make your chosen clothing item.

A pattern is your guide for how to cut clothing pieces
Clothes pattern on fabric

You can buy patterns in retail stores or from online sources, and they come in many different styles and sizes. Popular pattern company brands include McCall's, Simplicity and Butterick.

To choose the right pattern in the proper size, you need to know basic body measurements, including waist and hip size. Each pattern is different, so don't assume your standard size, the one you use to buy clothing off the rack in a store, will work. Always start with measurements. Most pattern companies use a standard set of body measurements, and they'll be on the pattern envelope. They're also on some company websites. For example, Butterick lists them, divided into size categories like Misses/Misses' Petite, Women's/Women's Petite, Children's and Men's.

To take proper measurements, use a fabric measuring tape. If the clothes are for you, stand up straight, and work through each body section the pattern requires. Pull the tape snug (but not too tight), bringing it all the way around you and measure each body portion. It's a good idea to measure twice to make sure your figures are accurate. With these numbers, you can then buy the right pattern for your size.

Selecting Fabrics

Fabric choices are limitless, with a vivid array of colors and patterns. But before you grab a bolt of fabric because you like the color, think about what kind of fabric you'll need for the clothes you're making.

The choice of fabric is limitless
Colorful fabric

The pattern you've chosen can help you. It will tell you how much fabric you'll need. It will also include suggestions for fabrics that work well with the specific pattern. While you don't have to take them, using the recommendation could result in a more successful project if you're just starting out.

To select fabric, consider several things. Specific fabric types have different feels and textures. Do you want something that drapes or hangs in certain ways and clings to the body? In that case, you might want to choose a knit, which tends to be more stretchy than woven fabric. Knits are made by a process that continuously loops and knots a single long thread. They have more give in them than woven fabrics, in which two threads are interlaced at right angles. Woven fabrics don't usually have much stretch, but they hold a structure well.

Also, consider the fabric's weight or structure and thickness. Some lightweight fabrics are better for clothing to be worn in the summer, while heavy fabrics are used for clothing worn in winter. In general, for beginners, a simple pattern that uses a medium weight fabric is a good starting point.

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